Routine knee surgery leads to near-fatal infection - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

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Woman loses leg after knee surgery

Mary Bland and her husband, Larry, used to lead active lives.

"I never had knee trouble in my life," Mary says. "I had children. I baby-sat. I played basketball with my granddaughter."

That active lifestyle changed when she fell off of a ladder while redecorating her Maryland home. Mary landed hard on her left leg and says it never seemed to properly heal. 

Bland says her doctor told her she was a candidate for knee replacement, and although only in her late 50s at the time, she decided to have the surgery because she was eager to get back to her old activities.

Only, that's not the change Mary received.

"My leg was swollen," Mary remembers. "I had a girl that was working to become a therapist and she said, 'I've never seen anything like this in my life.'"

One year later, Mary says her leg was infected with pseudomonas and full of scar tissue. Her doctor told her he'd have to take her knee out to let the infection heal.

For six months, Mary laid in an immobilizer with a leg that couldn't bend. The Blands made plans to move to South Carolina and Mary had hope that when her knee was put back in, they'd start living the life they'd dreamed of together.

"About three weeks after surgery, I said to my husband it didn't feel right and I noticed there was something on the outside [of my knee] that I'd never seen before," Mary recalls.

Her physical therapists were equally as worried about the leg.

"They said to me, ‘We don't want to touch it because you've had this doctor...[the knee has] been in, it's been out, now it's in and it looks like it needs to come back out.'"

Mary's doctors from the Grand Strand area told her to go back to Maryland for treatment.

"I really thought I was going to die," Mary says. "I didn't even think I could make it back to Maryland."

Mary was on powerful antibiotics to treat the infection, but says that her condition was getting worse day by day.

"I knew I was dying because I couldn't eat; I just didn't feel good.  Every day there was another place on my leg that was busted open," she details. "I just knew I wasn't getting better and my husband did, too."

Finally, she got a call from a hospital in Maryland with test results from nearly a month earlier.

"The infectious disease doctor called me and said, 'We just found out you have a different infection,'" recalls Mary. 

The doctor told her she had Clostridium Difficile, commonly called C Diff. Mary had never heard of it.

C Diff is a superbug that normally attacks the colon of unhealthy patients in hospitals and nursing homes. It causes voluminous diarrhea and can lead to death. C Diff infections are increasing at hospitals at an alarming rate. Discovery Health claims C Diff is about to pass MRSA as the most common antibiotic-resistant infection at healthcare facilities.

"[It's] probably one of the most contagious things that we have in the hospital environment," says Winona McLamb, health and education director at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. "It lives for long periods of time on furniture, inanimate objects, and can be carried from one person to another."

McLamb says GSRMC has never seen C Diff outside of the colon.

Mary's case baffled her own doctors in Maryland; how could she have contracted a deadly infectious disease in her leg, when it typically affects the colon? 

Instead of offering an answer, they'd leave her to make a life-changing choice. She made an appointment to see a doctor in South Carolina.

"He said, ‘I hope you're not here for a new knee', and I said, ‘No, I'm here for you to take my leg off,'" Mary recalls the emotional day easily. "It was a very difficult decision to make, but I would rather live with one leg than not live at all."

She was closer to death than she'd even thought. The doctor who amputated her left leg told her husband she wouldn't have lived another week, because the infection was killing her.

Now, with her left leg gone, she's taking slow and steady steps again with the help of a prosthetic.

"Anyone who needs joint replacement, think long and hard. Study. Ask questions," Mary cautions.  "It's not like everybody's going to get it, but anybody could get it. That's the problem."

Mary eventually found someone willing to write an article about her case. The author says she is one of only three people worldwide to contract C Diff outside the colon. He's hoping to have his article published in a medical journal to warn those in the field about the dangers of C Diff and the possibility this infectious disease could pose an even bigger threat than it does right now.

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